Monday, November 23, 2009

Blur and Panning

After ten years of shooting weddings I still haven't gotten bored. One of my favorite things to do with every wedding is to try to include some sort of blur into the collection of images. The sense of movement is really fun to play with, plus you never really know what you will get exactly, so it's exciting too. The image on the right is from one of the first weddings I shot when we lived in Utah. Back then I was still using my RB67 medium format camera for all the formal portraits and then switching to 35mm during the reception. Digital was around, but I was still unconvinced that it could match the quality of my negatives. The reception had moved into the later part of the evening and the Bride and Groom were difficult to motivate, so events were unfolding slowly and I was bored. I had one frame left on my last roll of 120 film and I needed somewhere to use it, but the venue was dark and crowded. There was however a spot light on the cake table, and a pretty good looking cake... target aquired.
I set up my tripod and took a 3 second exposure of the cake. During that time the DJ announced the cake cutting and the couple came from opposite sides of the room to the table where I was photographing. At the time I was mad, thinking "They probably ruined my shot." A few days later when I actually got the film back, I changed my tune. From that point on my love of blur became an infection.

Panning, is a technique that keeps a moving object in sharp focus while burring the background. For the next shot, you'll see that the couple are sharp while the blur shows the movement of the car. This is simple enough to do, just move the camera the same direction and roughly the same speed as the subject.
In both cases the story being told in each  image is better represented visually by the addition of blur. If stop action had been applied to any of the photographs in this blog post, just imagine how boring they would be. Two people sitting in a car waving, or a bride and groom just standing by a cake doesn't sound very interesting to me.

To achieve either of these effects you need a few things:
  1. Tripod. I always shoot anything I intend to blur with a tripod or monopod. This helps to illuminate human error and helps to keep some objects in sharp focus.
  2. Slow shutter speeds. Stop action for people is anywhere between 1/30-1/125 a second (depending on the person, their age, and if they are moving.) I never shoot my kids in available light with shutter speeds lower then 1/125 since they can't hold still at all. 
  3. Good lighting. Flash will generally stop action at any shutter speed (depending on it's power and how long the shutter is open- I suggest experimenting if you want to see what I mean) This look can often be very interesting but keep in mind you'll need to use rear sync for your flash so the stop action is at the end of your exposure and not the beginning. I almost always end up using ambient light to get the smooth blur I want.
  4. Control the blur. This takes time and a lot of frames on occasion. Think about how much blur you want since too much will render your subject unrecognizable and too little will just make then look out of focus.  The difference between an accidental blur and a great image is simply the intent and then execution. Though having luck on your side like I did with the cake photo doesn't hurt. 
I don't think I've gotten the ultimate blur photo yet, so I'll keep practicing at every wedding I shoot. Here are  two more that I like a lot.

Tomorrow: Highlights from my shoot with Salon and Spa Dolche' in Everett WA. I love environmental portraiture!

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